Proposed Law School move puzzles VIPs

Rendell doubts state will grant money for new building

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Of Our Carlisle Bureau

CARLISLE - Gov. Ed Rendell said a proposal to move The Dickinson School of Law to State College has him stumped.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday at the Capitol, Rendell said it was unlikely the state would put up any money for a new building or for moving Dickinson.

And he wondered why a university with a medical school in Hershey would object to having a law school in Carlisle.

Rendell is not alone.

Few insiders were privy to discussions that led the law school dean to urge the board of governors to consider a Penn State University offer to build a $60 million facility for Dickinson in State College.

Penn State trustees first learned of the proposal at their meeting last week, said Robert M. Frey, trustee emeritus.

"They were as much in the dark as anybody," he said.

Penn State officials said only that the university, which merged with Dickinson in 1997, has room for the school in State College. Law school Dean Philip McConnaughay declined to elaborate on the proposal.

The law school board expects to consider it during Friday and Saturday meetings in Carlisle.

The Legislature holds strategic levers in a fight to keep Dickinson in Carlisle.

They range from the $306 million annual appropriation to Penn State's operating budget to allocations for new construction.

Area lawmakers said they would focus on finding a way to permit the school to upgrade existing facilities.

That's what law school board members said they talked about at their October meeting.

Frey, who is also an emeritus member of the law school board, said a consultant provided four concepts for redeveloping the existing school site.

All the plans would be hampered by adjacent development.

Frey said the consultant had not been asked to draw up plans for other potential Carlisle sites, including the soon-to-be vacant hospital, three blocks from the law school.

Frey said the board was not asked to discuss an offer made by Dickinson College President Bill Durden to accommodate crowded law classes at the college, which is next to but not affiliated with the law school.

Instead, the board has been asked to weigh abandoning Carlisle -- the law school's home for nearly 170 years. No move would take place without the board's approval.

"I'm inclined to think that, at [Dickinson's] end, it's mostly, if not entirely, the dean's notion. To what extent people at Penn State ... are urging it or encouraging it, I don't know," Frey said.

Law school supporters and alumni are urging the board to kill the proposal.

"The alumni have been strongly opposed," said Stephen Hogg, president of the Cumberland Valley chapter of the alumni association.

Alumnus Ron Turo yesterday went so far as to ask board members to dissolve the Dickinson/Penn State union.

Hogg said alumni have received no details and won't learn of the school's fate until after the board meets.

"A lot of alumni object to that and want more information and want more input," he said.

Frey said the thrust of McConnaughay's recommendation is that, in order to thrive, the law school must move to State College.

"That, I have trouble believing," he said. "My guess is the board isn't going to be very docile."